PHOENIX – Upon the ending of Major League Baseball’s waging labor strike, baseball has been back in full swing in the Valley, with big leaguers returning to clubhouses and backfields. The familiar sight has brought along some changes as well, particularly in the Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse, where former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen is already chopping it up with his new teammates.
“I’ve been on a few teams now and I kind of have an expectation of what to look for,” McCutchen said on Thursday after signing a one-year deal with the Brewers on Monday. “It’s been very good, everyone has been cool. I feel like I fit in here pretty well.”
McCutchen, 35, is fresh off three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies where he hit 47 home runs in 260 games. The five-time All-Star enjoyed nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he finished top five in NL MVP voting four consecutive years, from 2012-2015.
His veteran presence already has landed him some high remarks from his new teammates. The 2018 NL MVP, Christian Yelich, is happy with the moves the Brewers front office has made throughout the offseason, and McCutchen’s acquisition is no exception.
“(The front office) always does a good job of giving us the opportunity to be competitive and put a winning team on the field,” Yelich said. “There’s some other good teams in this division and we’re going to have to play well if we want to get where we want to be. Adding guys like McCutchen obviously helps along with some of the other additions they’ve made.”
The Brewers added former Boston Red Sox slugger Hunter Renfroe as well just before the lockout hit in December. Their outfield this spring now features four everyday-caliber outfielders along with David Dahl, who is a non-roster invitee after being signed last August.
McCutchen adds some versatility to the group, as someone who can play anywhere in the outfield while flashing some pop at the plate. The implementation of the universal designated hitter adds an extra spot for him to slot in on any given day as well.
In his career, McCutchen has averaged 25 homers and 34 doubles per season, a respectable mark for a player with 13 years of major league experience. He’s excited to get to work, embracing a new challenge while being a mentor for younger players.
“We get all the ‘hellos’ out of the way and settle in but then get to work,” McCutchen said. “I’ve been feeling good being here.It feels like a place that I’m already familiar with.”
Milwaukee finished 95-67 at the end of the 2021 regular season, good enough for first place in the Nation League Central heading into the postseason. Despite this, the Brewers ended their season with an NLDS loss to the eventual World Series champion Atlanta Braves in four games.
Their offense struggled in those games, tallying just six runs on the series. This trend was a recurring one in 2021 where the Brewers scuffled at the plate throughout, finishing 27th in the league in hitting with a measly .233 batting average.
The depth McCutchen and Renfroe specifically add perhaps turns this trend in the opposite direction.
“Anytime you can be with guys like them, guys who have good track records it’s always good,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “You get to learn and share ideas back and forth. Someone like McCutchen is always good, to pick someone’s brain like that – an MVP, All-Star, Gold Glover – it’s cool to have.
“His leadership will come out being that he’s the veteran in this clubhouse.”
Milwaukee’s Cactus League slate will begin today against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. With three weeks of spring training before Opening Day, McCutchen and his teammates won’t have the time they normally do to prepare for the season ahead.
They are cognizant of that, but the Brewers are excited to be carrying a new veteran outfielder into the 2022 campaign with them.
“There were some good things that happened for me last year but there were some challenging things,” McCutchen said. “I think I’m in a really good position, I’m able to play in a pretty hitter-friendly ballpark as well. I’m looking forward to continuing to be who I’ve always been on the field.”